Category Archives: Spring 2015

Ulla Potuvil, village under construction

Inter-disciplinary research in global disaster resilience

Part of the School of Art, Design and Architecture, the Global Disaster Resilience Centre (GDRC) carries out research, education and advocacy activities to help improve the resilience of nations and communities to disasters. GDRC’s work focuses on the role of the built environment: how the design, development and management of buildings, spaces and places can be used to increase resilience.

Much of the Centre’s work is multi or interdisciplinary, and the team work closely with UK and international academic partners from across the social and physical sciences, as well as key stakeholders from policy, government and industry. They provide strategic advice and practical guidance based on rigorous research that is informed by industry and community members.

Protecting and rebuilding communities

With populations and infrastructures increasing the world over, our exposure to hazards is increasing. It is vital that we consider how to protect people and their environment, and reduce a community’s vulnerability.

GDRC’s work recognises that development of the built – or physical – environment must not be carried out in a vacuum. Instead, much of the GDRC’s work highlights the importance of developing resilience through linking the community’s built environment to its broader social, natural, institutional and economic needs.

When a disaster does strike, the built environment also plays a vital role in the recovery process as communities need to be rebuilt physically, economically and socially.

Ten years on from the Sri Lanka Tsunami

On the 26th of December 2004 a tsunami wave, triggered by an earthquake off the coast of Sumatra, hit Northern, Eastern and Southern coastal regions of Sri Lanka, causing 40,000 deaths, 500,000 internally displaced people and 900 million US dollars-worth of infrastructure and environmental damage. Assistance rushed in from local, national and international communities, government, private sector, and non-governmental organizations. A Centre for National Operations was formed to help coordinate relief efforts and, by November 2005, all government agency efforts had consolidated into the Reconstruction and Development Agency (RADA). This year marks the tenth anniversary of the Indian Ocean Tsunami.

A key research initiative has recently been launched between GDRC, the Social Policy Analysis Research Centre at the University of Colombo and the Department of Civil Engineering at the University of Moratuwa in Sri Lanka to look at the Tsunami recovery process in Sri Lanka. The main question that we pose is: where do the victims of the Tsunami stand today after ten years following the event? By considering areas such as infrastructure reconstruction community formation, social cohesion and the impact on young and elderly people, we are improving the understanding of how disasters affect communities in the long term.

For further information, get in touch with the Global Disaster Resilience Centre

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Using pomegranates to help dementia sufferers

Researchers based within the Pharmaceutical Sciences Research Group (PSRG) have been investigating how a natural compound, found in pomegranates, can slow the onset of ‌ Alzheimer’s disease. Led by Dr Olumayokun Olajide (a specialist in the anti-inflammatory properties of natural products), this two year project has also found that the painful inflammation that accompanies illnesses such as rheumatoid arthritis and Parkinson’s disease could be reduced.

Preventing neuroinflammation helps to ease suffering for millions

Researchers have been using microglia (brain-resident immune cells) grown in PSRG laboratories to demonstrate that punicalagin, a component of pomegranate fruit, prevents neuroinflammation and the resulting breakdown of neurons. This key breakthrough may not be able to cure Alzheimer’s disease, but it can help to ease the resulting suffering which affects some 800,000 people in the UK, with 163,000 new cases a year being diagnosed. Globally, there are at least 44.4 million dementia sufferers, with the numbers expected to soar.

Previous research has shown that inflammation in microglia can trigger the production of neurotoxic chemicals and clumps of protein, known as “plaques” in the brain. These neurotoxic chemicals and plaques destroy the adjacent neurons, which are responsible for cognitive functions such as learning, memory and behaviour. This self-perpetuating process of neuroinflammation results in the progressive decline of these functions, presenting real challenges for people living with Alzheimer’s disease.

Developing new drugs for effective treatment

The PSRG team used brain cells isolated from rats in order to test the existing research, and are still working on the amounts of the pomegranate compound that are required in order to be effective. They will attempt to produce compound derivatives of punicalagin that could be the basis of new, orally administered drugs that would treat neuroinflammation.

“We do know that regular intake and regular consumption of pomegranate has a lot of health benefits, including the prevention of neuroinflammation related to dementia.”

Dr Olumayokun Olajide

For further details, contact the Pharmaceutical Sciences Research Group

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Innovative rail research – in industry and education

The Institute of Railway Research (IRR) carries out innovative, world-leading research into the interaction between railway vehicles and the track. This work is helping the railway industry to reduce costs and improve safety levels by furthering the understanding of how wheels interact with the track and the resulting deterioration due to wear and tear caused by high stresses.

By drawing on cross-disciplinary research and working with high profile industry partners, the Institute is producing cutting edge research with significant impacts for both the rail industry and those using rail services.

HS2 – high-speed rail

The Institute has recently been awarded its first contract under the UK government’s HS2 high-speed rail project, supporting important developments in a new era of high-speed rail travel in the UK. The Research and Enterprise team, led by Dr Paul Allen and Dr Adam Bevan, will embark on an exciting project to model the vehicle-track interaction of a number of high-speed vehicle concepts, which will run at speeds of up to 360km per hour.

‘The study will require detailed mathematical modelling and dynamic simulation of the vehicle and track system, providing the HS2 team with vital information on system performance. It will also help guide the on-going design and procurement process for both the vehicle and track.’

Dr Adam Bevan, IRR Head of Enterprise

The simulation work will investigate aspects of the system performance, such as ride quality, the forces generated between the vehicle and the track and the likely wheel-rail deterioration mechanisms and rates which might be expected during operation on the new high-speed network.

Working with industry partners

In addition to working on the government’s HS2 project, the Institute is also working closely with the Rail Safety and Standards Board (RSSB) as part of a partnership which launched in 2013. This partnership allows IRR and RSSB to share their resources and skills to inform decision making and risk prediction through system and engineering risk modelling.

Equally funded by both organisations, the £5 million five-year programme develops new research and techniques to fill current gaps in system and engineering risk modelling, as well as issues around human capital, and educating the next generation of railway professionals.

Engaging young people with research

Part of the Institute’s commitment to encouraging and educating the next generation of railway professionals includes providing opportunities for young people to engage with current research and challenges. In 2014 the Institute hosted the Smallpeice Trust rail engineering residential course, bringing together 10 teams of 15-17-year-olds over four days to take part in competitive challenges that saw them designing, building and testing their own electric-powered locomotives, running them on the Institute’s test rail track.

The successful event will be hosted again in July 2015, giving another group of enthusiastic young people the chance to engage with railway research and consider career opportunities they may want to pursue in the future.

For further information you can get in touch with the Institute of Railway Research

Pair of 1796 Light Cavalry sabres which were presented to the Duke of Buccleuch and Queensberry and to his son the Earl of Dalkeith

Exploring the Battle of Waterloo through arms and armour

The Arms and Armour Research Institute (AARI) consists of a multidisciplinary team of academics from a range of subject areas including History, Archaeology, Forensic and Materials Science. Bringing these areas together fosters high quality research with a collaborative outlook, focusing on the discovery and analysis of military weaponry and historical sites, with a particular emphasis on using cutting edge science and technology breakthroughs to carry out this research.

In addition to carrying our innovative research and contributing to key conferences and publications, the Institute engages in consultancy through the University to provide advice to museums, auction houses, television productions and individual collectors.

200 years after the Battle of Waterloo, AARI is working closely with English Heritage to take part in an exhibition at Wellington Arch and the delivery of a lecture exploring some of the weapons used during this well-known military engagement.

Exhibiting weapons from the time of Waterloo

AARI will be arranging the loan, from private clients, of six key pieces for the exhibition, which opens in April 2015, covering a wide range of weaponry used by both British and French military, including:

  • British Heavy Cavalry sabre pattern – Marked to the 2nd North British Dragoons Scots Greys who took part in the ill-fated charge at the Battle of Waterloo.
  • British Light Dragoon cavalry pistol – The style of pistol issued to most cavalry units fighting in the Anglo-German forces. Marked to the King’s German Legion.
  • French cavalry pistol model ANXIII of the Revolutionary calendar – Manufactured at the National Armoury at St.Etienne in 1813, this pistol would have been utilised in significant numbers by the French cavalry at the Battle of Waterloo.
  • French Heavy Cavalry sabre pattern ANXI – Armed the French heavy cuirassier regiments at Waterloo and was particularly lethal as a thrusting weapon against both mounted troops and infantry.
  • British Light Cavalry sabre pattern – Carries the Board of Ordnance view mark on the 33 inch curved blade, signed by ‘Bate’, and was designed for slashing at the enemy. Prussian markings indicate it may have been exported to resupply the allies during Napoleon’s retreat through Europe in 1812 and 1813.
  • French Light Cavalry sabre Chasseur a Cheval – Carried by the French light cavalry at Waterloo. Particularly significant is its issue to the regiments of Lancers who pursued the Scots Greys after their ill-fated charge.
British Light Dragoon cavalry pistol
British Light Dragoon cavalry pistol

The exhibition is being held at Apsley House and the Wellington Arch in London and will run from 18th April until 2nd November.

There will be a further exhibition of weaponry for the National Army Museum North Exhibition, opening at Bankfield Museum on the 8th May.

Understanding how weapons were used

On Sunday 18 June 1815 the nations of Europe gathered on a waterlogged battlefield nine miles south of Brussels to perform the final act of the twenty three year drama that was to become known as the Napoleonic Wars. Almost three hundred thousand heavily armed men would decide the fate of Europe. For some their lives would depend upon the effectiveness of their swords.

This anniversary provides a unique opportunity to examine the manufacture of these enigmatic swords and their supply to the French mounted forces that became the scourge of Europe for over twenty years. Many of the finest swords were manufactured and refined at the two centres of production at the time. For the allied forces this was in Birmingham, for the French, their finest swords were designed and forged at Klingenthal.

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Reverend Paul Wilcock

Reverend Paul Wilcock, Director of AARI, specialises in edged weapons and identifying marks on weaponry and armour. On the 11th May Paul will be delivering his lecture, entitled Waterloo: The Cutting Edge – swords from the Battle of Waterloo at Apsley House. The lecture will consist of an evaluation of some of the swords carried by both the British and French forces and be illustrated by a range of artefacts from the period.

For further details, contact the Arms and Armour Research Institute